The last pair to arrive at the part were Miracle Elsie Abbot and her niece Jane.
Miracle, as always, wore one of her prissy schoolmarm dresses, but unlike when she went to work, she was also wearing thick-soled winter walking shoes. In deference to the warm weather, she had exchanged her winter coat for a red cardigan sweater that was the same red as the mayor’s turtleneck.
The colors of both added bright flags of merriment to an already happy day.
Miracle’s great niece was colorfully dressed, too, in a patchwork quilt jacket of pink, gold, and blue with a fuchsia silk flower tucked into her wild black curls like a crown feather atop a cockatoo’s head.
Jane was carrying two large shopping bags.
She was a pretty girl, with a face that had not yet lost its baby fat, big round eyes, and a wide smiling mouth made for chitter-chat and gossip. She was as extroverted and impulsive as her great aunt was introverted and self-contained. The two of them loved each other very much.
As soon as they arrived at the small platform in front of the Carousel where Chiquita Bamberger, Amos Goode, and Noah Pitt had set themselves up (it was about the size of a billiard table), Jane angled toward the mayor, grabbed her right hand, vigorously shook it, and said, “Mrs. Abbot is my aunt. I adore her. I’m Jane.”
She shifted her eyes to Amos and Noah.
“Hi, guys.” She continued. “Aunt Miracle told me all about you.”
Jane returned her attention to Chiquita and placed one of the two shopping bags at her feet.
“I heard you on the radio this morning, so I brought along some accessories for the snowmen. Scarves. Socks. Big black buttons. They’d make good eyes. Mittens. And a couple of old hats.”
Jane indicated the second shopping bag, which she kept in her hand.
“But you can’t have this one. These are for my snowman.” She grinned widely. “I am going to win the competition, of course.”
Then, as abruptly as she had appeared, she gave a quick wave of her hand, and wandered off in search of a suitably pristine patch of snow.
Miracle Elsie Abbot did not go with her.
She walked forward, shoulders thrust back as if about to be sentenced after a trial by a hanging judge. Her voice tight and her expression appalled, she said, “I apologize for my niece. She’s a flibbertigibbet, and she’s too young to know her place. I shouldn’t have brought her here.”
Mayor Bamberger’s eyes widened in surprise.
“Are you kidding? Jane is exactly what we need. Now that she’s started making her snowman…” Chiquita pointed to where Jane was already rolling a snowball over a blanket of snow which, second by second was growing into a respectable-sized base, “…others will follow her lead.”
The mayor turned to her left.
She turned to her right.
“See!” She exclaimed.
And true to her words, everywhere, people wearing sweaters, parkas, bomber jackets, sweat shirts and even in shirt sleeves were marking out their territory and beginning to roll snow.
The mayor picked up the microphone that Amos had appropriated from the City Hall Audio Visual Department, and she turned it on.
Her words that warm winter day – close to five hundred people had showed up – were cheerful, informative, and brief. She acknowledged that many had come just to get out of their homes, chat with neighbors, and bask in the sun after being cooped up for a week, and she assured them that even if they did not want to join in the competition, they were still welcome.
Then she pointed to a food truck about 300 feet away.
“Our friends at Rocco’s Bistro are generously providing hot chocolate to anyone who wants to warm the cockles of their hearts.”
A few young people cheered.
“How much for a cup?” A voice near the Carousel called out.
“Free!” the mayor responded. “Compliments of Rocco.”
The cheer grew louder.
A man sitting in the crook of a spruce tree shouted, “What are cockles?”
Chiquita shrugged, “I have no idea.”
Everybody laughed. She went on. “Now brace yourselves, because I am going to issue an official municipal government threat.”
The man in the spruce tree shouted, “Bring it on.”
She gave him a thumbs up.
“Anyone,” she continued, “and that means anyone, who leaves litter behind in the park on this beautiful day – even a scrap of paper the size of a postage stamp – will face execution by a firing squad tomorrow at dawn.”
Many of the adults in the park chuckled. But the young people cheered again, clearly not caring what was said, but in an applauding kind of a mood. However, as instructed (or threatened) nobody left behind as much as a straw or a bottle cap.
Chiquita ended her welcome speech with a happy whoop and the words, “And guess what?”
She made a “Come on. Come on” gesture with her hands until a few dozen people shouted back, “What?”
Mayor Bamberger beamed.
“Without the consent of the Parks Department and completely behind their backs, my staff has figured out how to open and operate the Carousel. And that means…”
She paused and again made a “Come on. Come on” gesture.
A man halfway between the platform and the food truck shouted out, “You’ll be impeached!”
And at exactly that moment (Amos and Noah had worked out the timing), brassy, cheery, lively calliope music from the merry-go-round began to play, the doors to its enclosure slid open, and Chiquita Bamberger announced, “Free rides for everyone!”
Copyright © Shelly Reuben, 2021. Shelly Reuben’s books have been nominated for Edgar, Prometheus, and Falcon awards. For more about her writing, visit www.shellyreuben.com.